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Cookbooks

Can computers cook? IBM’s supercomputer Watson pens first cookbook

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ICE chefs and IBM researchers hover over computers developing recipes. (Institute of Culinary Education)

Modernist cooking has gone futuristic.

Watson, the artificial-intelligence machine created by IBM, is releasing its first ever cookbook in collaboration with the Institute of Culinary Education (ICE). Over the past three years, chefs at one of the country’s largest cooking school have teamed up with IBM researchers to develop what they call “cognitive cooking."

The resulting dishes are surprisingly innovative, taste superb and provide a " 'synergy' of mouthwatering ingredients that will delight any food lover." The book also contains helpful tips for the culinary school for any home cook, from novice to advanced.

So what can a supercomputer do when it comes to food that a world-renowned culinary school can not?

ICE told CNN that while chefs already understand what ingredients do work well together, given the millions of edible possibilities that exist on earth, using a machine can allow humans to come up with countless combinations that would be nearly impossible—or take way too much time—if we were just tooling around in the kitchen alone. Watson essentially allows chefs to continually push culinary boundaries.

Using Watson’s artificial intelligence, IBM has been programming the machines “idea generating tool” with endless data on existing dishes so the computer could process information on flavor interactions, food chemical compositions, nutritional information and global culture preferences. From there, Watson would suggest new combinations of ingredients and methods of preparing dishes which the ICE chefs would test out and either approve or toss aside.

The cookbook contains over 65 recipes with everything from appetizers to entrees, desserts and snacks—but many of the dishes contain an unpredictable twist.

For example, Watson created an Austrian Grilles Asparagus served with a pig’s feet sous vide and a Creole Shrimp-Lamb Dumplings. There’s a Turkish Bruschetta that substitutes traditionally Middle Eastern ingredients—eggplant and sumac—for tomatoes and garlic.

IBM is now using Watson to develop a web-based cooking app that will allow people to search for new dishes based on personalized algorithms.

"You pick the kind of dish you like -- it could be a dumpling, a burrito, or you can remain vague and say you want it to be an appetizer," Florian Pinel, a senior software engineer at IBM, told CNN. "If you said you wanted an Indian burrito with eggplant, it will focus on Indian ingredients that go well with eggplants.”

In the app, Watson generates hundreds of recipes then narrows them based on the user’s criteria like allergies or dietary constraints—sounds like computers can be paleo friendly.

“Cognitive Cooking with Chef Watson” goes on sale April 14 with the possibility of more Watson recipes likely to come if the book is a hit.